Clinton, Trump meetings with Sisi underline foreign policy differences

Tuesday 20-09-2016 08:45 PM

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends a bilateral meeting with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) at a hotel in New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

CAIRO, Sept 20 (Aswat Masriya) - Meetings held between US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Monday underscored foreign policy differences between the two candidates.

The two US presidential candidates met separately with Sisi on the sidelines of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, where they discussed an array of topics ranging from terrorism to human rights and rule of law.

Trump’s meeting with Sisi was mainly focused on countering terrorism, underlining the importance of working together in "defeating radical Islam".

The Republican candidate hailed Sisi and expressed his "strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism and how under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead," the Trump campaign said in a statement. 

Trump described the US-Egypt relationship as "vital to help promote peace and stability in the Middle East," the campaign said.

The Republican presidential nominee, who faced a backlash after proposing his plan to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants from entering the US, emphasised to Sisi his "his high regard for peace-loving Muslims."

Trump also previously suggested a ban on immigration from countries "compromised by terrorism" from entering the US. It is not clear whether Egypt, who has been hit by numerous terror attacks since 2013, is on this list.

He however said that if he was elected as a president, he would invite Sisi on an official visit to US and that he would be "honored to visit Egypt." 

The Executive Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy Nancy Okail believes that if elected, Trump’s foreign policy towards Egypt will be "rooted in security and a great deal of consistent support to an Egyptian government addressing the threat of terrorism by any means necessary." 

"This means a disregard for the crackdown on human rights and civil society," Okail added. 

Compared to his meeting with Trump, Sisi's meeting with Clinton had a different direction, as the Democratic candidate "emphasised the importance of respect of rule of law and human rights to Egypt’s future progress," according to her campaign’s statement. 

Okail told Aswat Masriya that if elected, Clinton will prioritise security as well "but with some acknowledgment of the false dichotomy between freedom and security."

She believes that Clinton’s approach "will likely be similar to that of the Obama administration," in regard to "oscillation" between support for Egypt's war on terror and condemnation for its human rights situation.

During her meeting with Sisi, Clinton called for the release of the US-Egyptian dual citizen Aya Hegazy, who has been in pre-trial detention in Egypt for more than two years for running a local NGO for street children. The White House demanded the release of Hegazy as well in a Friday statement which was later criticised by Egypt.

Clinton has also emphasised during the meeting with Sisi her commitment to "defeating ISIS, addressing foreign fighters and to countering radicalization." 

Yet Okail believes that Clinton, unlike Obama, "is likely to be more aware of the realistic implications of pursuing democratic reforms."

Both candidates underlined during the meetings the importance of Egyptian cooperation with Israel on counter-terrorism, with Trump expressing his "recognition of Egypt's close relationship with Israel on countering terrorism."

Sisi’s comments during the meetings weren’t mentioned in the press releases and haven’t been reported by Egypt’s presidency.

Trump and Clinton have been criticised for meeting with the former general, with a number of scholars and activists releasing a letter on Friday urging both candidates not to meet with Sisi, saying that it would be taken in Egypt and around the world as an "endorsement." 

"Since taking power via a military coup three years ago, President Sisi has overseen not only the complete reversal of Egypt’s nascent democratic transition but also unprecedented human rights abuses," the letter stated.

"To meet with him is a policy decision, which should await a later date after much study and assessment of U.S. policy toward Egypt. Therefore, we strongly urge you to readjust your schedule," the letter added. 

The signatories included Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, among a number of scholars with a focus on Egypt.

But Okail believes that both candidates took the opportunity of the UNGA to meet with Sisi, "not just to curry international favour but also for their campaigns to project the credibility of candidates who are already capable of handling bilateral relations with key partners." 

Sisi, who came into power in 2014, has been the subject of heavy criticism from local and international human rights defenders over purported violations.

He was elected with a sweeping majority in 2014 after leading a military ouster of then-President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule. 

While it is hard to assess which of both candidates will align more with Sisi, Okail said that whoever wins the US presidential elections, their top priority in Egypt will be security.

"As such, both candidates will be prepared to cooperate with him and treat Egypt as a legitimate ally," she added.

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